Thursday, November 12, 2009
Two Florida DEP heads join opposition to EPA standards
Virginia Wetherell, left, speaks to reporters while Colleen Castille waits to speak. Both are former Florida DEP secretaries.
Opponents of federal water quality standards for nutrients in Florida waterways raised their level of opposition today, unveiling a Web site and two former state environmental chiefs who are on their side.
Scientists say nutrients from a variety of sources, including farms, sewage treatment plans, industrial mills and stormwater runoff are to blame for weeds and algae that choke some Florida waterways.
To settle a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, the EPA agreed in August to set numeric limits for nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, in rivers, lakes and coastal waters. Previously the state had only a narrative criteria that prohibited levels that cause an "imbalance" of plants and animals.
Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson, along with wastewater utilities and four of the state's five water management districts, already is seeking to intervene in an attempt to block the agreement. They protested the agreement last week in appearances before the House Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy Committee.
Today, business and anti-tax groups along with Colleen Castille and Virginia Wetherell, both former secretaries of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, announced their opposition and the creation of a web site called www.DontTaxFlorida.com.
"For Colleen and myself, we find it very troubling that the federal government would inflict a particular set of strict -- and what we think are unreachable -- limits on this particular state when they are not looking at them for other states," Wetherell said.
The proposed court agreement, which will be considered for approval Monday by a federal judge, would more than double the monthly sewage treatment bill for the average household from $56 to $118, said Paul Steinbrecher, vice president of the Florida Water Environment Association's Utility Council. He also said utilities would be required to spend $50 billion to meet new federal water quality standards.
There was no immediate reply from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA and the Florida DEP both have said that setting numeric criteria is necessary to restore waterways in the state. EPA has said last month that it had not finalized the proposed criteria so it was unknown what actions would be needed to reduce pollution.
Monica Reimer, an attorney representing the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club and the St. Johns Riverkeeper and other environmental groups that sued the federal government, said the opposition press conference reflected "hysteria" by the industry groups and that the economic claims were "just ridiculous."
"This entire press conference was about something that doesn't exist -- it's about what the standards are that EPA will propose," said Reimer, with the nonprofit Earthjustice law firm in Tallahassee.
"If they (the standards to be proposed) are in fact arbitrary, they (opponents) can go to federal court and claim that," she said. "If they are right, a federal court will strike them."
A federal judge is scheduled to consider the proposed court agreement on Monday. If approved, the EPA would be required to propose standards in January and adopt them by October 2010.
The groups represented at the news conference today included Florida TaxWatch, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Alliance for Concerned Taxpayers and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. They are among 26 businesses and groups that have joined the opposition coalition.
Outside the news conference at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee, staff of Earthjustice held poster-sized photographs of algae blooms in waterways including a St. Johns River tributary.
Nov. 4, 2009: "House members vent against EPA water standards"
Oct. 2, 2009: "Bronson sides against EPA agreement on waterways"
Aug. 24, 2009: "EPA, groups settle water dispute; Industry groups threaten challenge"
(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)